Arms of Arda

I have two out of four. Now I just need a peerage and an ancient hall.

Twice before I have mentioned creating Wikipedia pages compiling illustrated heraldic lists: One personal, for the Speakers of the House of Commons, and one corporate, for Britain’s many armigerous universities. Yesterday I started drafting another two such pages. The first was for all the schools (primary and secondary education) in the United Kingdom which bear arms, the second was for the armigerous entities – whether single characters, whole families or the polities they rule – within Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

I notified the heraldry and vexillology project of both of these undertakings. I also told the Middle-earth project, though only while typing this post did I find the project for schools. So far the schools page has garnered negligible attention. This was expected given the Speakers page took three months and three submission attempts to be published, while the Universities one took almost a year. The Tolkien page, however, has already been moved to mainspace, with editors from that project rushing in to cite academic papers analysing heraldry in the legendarium (including the two articles to which I linked back in May) as well as the exact points in the books themselves at which the various shields or banners were described.

The manner of description is where this armorial necessarily differs from the others I have done, for the Anglo-Norman terminology of blazon would be inappropriate in this fantastical pre-history. The devices which appear are thus constructed from plain English sentences, giving accessibility for layman at the expense of the precision desired by heraldists. The armorial ensigns of Middle-earth are far more primitive than those of the modern (or even later medieval) age, usually consisting of a single charge on a plain background – the white hand of Isengard, the red eye of Mordor, the coiled serpent of Harad and the running horse of Rohan. Some have no charge at all, though of course this strains uniqueness – the Elf lord Maeglin and the Vala devil Morgoth both used emblems of plain black. Repetition can occur even with the more complex designs – the lines of Elendil and Durin both set their main charge (the White Tree of Gondor, or the hammer & anvil of Moria) beneath a crown and a chevron of seven stars. For the kings of men these represented the palantíri from Númenor, for the dwarves the Valacirca constellation.

Legendarium figures were not immune to resorting to writing in their insignia: The stewards of Gondor inscribed their seal with the Tengwar form of R · ND · R – shorthand for the Quenya name of their office. Gandalf used a certh G on a grey roundel, and Saruman a certh S on white. It is not said if Radagast ever used a certh R on a brown roundel in the same way.

The sixteen-pointed lozenge of Finwë, High King of the Ñoldor.

Elves, as one might expect, exhibit a greater degree of sophistication in their devices, sometimes with details that could prove too fine for mere human eyes. Personal devices were on lozenges (for the males) or roundels (for the females). Squares bore the signs of entire dynasties, or the nations they led. The average Elven cognizance features either stars or flowers, with the number of points (either flares or petals) that touch the edge indicating the owner’s rank. In this way there is some resemblance to modern human heraldry with its many different coronets and helmets, though in Middle-earth these details must be placed on the shield for there are no such external ornaments.

Exceptions to this convention were found in the lost city of Gondolin, where the twelve houses each had their own emblems depicted on shields. Thankfully I did not have to add these all by myself, for the existing article on The Fall of Gondolin included a handy table for me to transclude. In many cases the shield merely depicts the image for which the house is named – the White Wing, the Pillar, the Tower of Snow, the Tree, the Golden Flower, the Fountain, the Harp. Some are less intuitive – the House of the King uses a crescent, sun and heart, and the House of the Heavenly Arch depicts a multi-coloured jewel. The House of the Hammer of Wrath shows the titular hammer striking an anvil, similar to Durin’s emblem.

There is one unfortunate omission – the Shire, which provides the main protagonists for Tolkien’s best-known stories, has was never given any flag, arms or seal by which to be identified. Perhaps this is to be expected given the minimalist government of the region and the rarity with which Hobbits interacted with other nations even for trade, much less war. Still, it is interesting to ponder what a fitting charge might be – a pipe, perhaps, or a bare, hairy foot? Far stranger coats of arms have been employed in the real world, after all.

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